In the midst of the pandemonium in Oakland this week, the City of Oakland quietly released a key document (PDF) that promises to reshape a major Oakland neighborhood just north of downtown.
At a meeting of the Community Stakeholders Group last night, Oct. 27, the City presented and facilitated a discussion on the Draft Plan Concept (PDF) for the Broadway-Valdez Specific Plan, just released this week. Greenbelt Alliance is pleased that much of the document mirrors what we outlined in the Better Broadway vision (PDF), which we unveiled along with eight other environmental, housing, and social justice groups at our big launch back in April. But there’s still more work to be done to ensure this is a complete community.
How does the Draft Plan Concept measure up to what Greenbelt Alliance has pushed for in the plan? Let’s take a look.
- The plan seeks to be market-driven and incremental, making it more likely to be successful in the long run.
- Short-term strategies to activate the area, including but not limited to improvements to public spaces, parklets, façade improvement incentives, and extended Free “B” shuttle service, are all promising.
- The plan balances the desire for local and national retailers, both small and large.
- The plan mentions the goal of having quality jobs in the area.
- We said we wanted at least 1,800 homes in the area, 300-500 of them affordable. The City has said they want 1,800 homes in the area, 300-500 of them affordable–but has also said they’re open to the plan having as few as 900 homes. So, while this goal has not exactly been met, we are pleased to see progress here. Previously, the City did not envision more than 1,300 homes in the area.
- The City would like at least 15% of housing in the area to be affordable.
- We appreciate the focus on workforce housing in the area’s North End, giving Pill Hill employees and others nearby the chance to live near work.
- The City proposes a possible Parking Benefits District for the area, which could do wonders in terms of funding streetscape and other improvements that would keep the area looking nice and benefit those living, working, and shopping here.
- New parking for retail will only be provided on an as-needed basis, which will save the City money and make development more feasible here.
- Pricing is mentioned as one tool to manage and minimize the demand for parking.
- New parking will be phased down in each wave of development as greater investment comes to the area and transit service improves along with the increased demand for it.
- No new surface parking lots—all parking will be wrapped by building façades or buried in underground garages.
Access for Pedestrians, Cyclists, and Those on Transit
- The focus on high-quality public spaces, including pedestrian-only paseos, is an excellent way to draw people into the area on foot and make the area more pleasant for everyone. We also like the widened sidewalks and bulbouts.
- New bike lanes and bike amenities are proposed, making the area friendlier to those traveling on two wheels instead of four. The City will clean up and enhance the underpasses beneath 580 on both Broadway and Piedmont Avenue; these improvements are sorely needed and will help attract Pill Hill workers into the area.
- We are pleased to see plenty of wayfinding signage, transit enhancements, and the accommodation of the proposed streetcar.
- Featured in the plan is new open space, including the addition of a linear park along Glen Echo Creek.
The Unclear and Maybe Ominous
- We are a bit anxious about the lack of clarity on the proposed parking ratios for retail, housing, and commercial land uses.
- We are concerned that the City’s range of proposed retail in the plan area – 800,000 to 1.4 million square feet – remains too high to be realistic and feasible for the area, given the uncertainty of retail in today’s economy.
- As mentioned earlier, we had called for at least 1,800 homes, 300-500 of them affordable. We are disappointed that the plan has stated 1,800 as the maximum number of new homes rather than the minimum, as we had requested.
- The plan mentions minimum floor plate requirements for sites in the Valdez Triangle that are adequately sized for major anchor stores, have good visibility, and enjoy excellent accessibility. We are eager to know more about what these minimum floor plate requirements will be.
- The proposed “Retail Before Residential” policy in five retail priority areas in the Valdez Triangles could prohibit housing development from catalyzing the retail renaissance the City seeks. We don’t want to see a situation where we spend decades waiting for retail to arrive on a site that instead remains idle and underutilized. The City has more work to do in ensuring this does not happen. Given the pressing need for jobs in Oakland, we simply can’t afford to excessively postpone investment and economic revitalization.
- We want to hear more about what kind of “quality jobs” are planned for the area, and how the jobs will benefit Oakland’s workforce.
- The City has said that some housing development could be accommodated in a number of blocks just outside the plan boundaries, an area roughly defined by being east of Webster Street and between 26th and 32nd Streets. We would like to hear more about how many homes could fit in this area, and why this land is not included in the plan area so it can be governed by the new policies we adopt in the Specific Plan.
- While mixed-use development is generally an excellent goal and makes for vibrant and walkable neighborhoods, we want to avoid a plan that mandates too many mixed-use buildings, or prohibits housing on the ground floor, especially on blocks where ground-floor shops or offices may not be feasible. These kinds of policies, when applied too broadly, can also have the impact of limiting where affordable homes can be built.
All in all, Greenbelt Alliance is extremely encouraged by the way this plan has evolved over the years we have been involved in this campaign. We are pleased the plan has become more oriented around pedestrians and less focused on cars and costly excess parking. The plan has made great strides in terms of feasibility and in terms of embracing a nuanced and thoughtful approach to development, on everything from infill housing to adaptive reuse.
It is more responsive to the need to make this area a complete community, with shops, jobs, and services that residents need in addition to dining, entertainment, and retail that will attract people from other communities to spend time here. We are optimistic that the Draft Plan, which we expect the City to release next spring, will show further signs of progress. Kudos to City staff for making these major improvements.
The City will make edits to the current document, and release a final draft of the Plan Concept by Dec. 1. The City of Oakland has also announced Thursday, Dec. 8, from 6-8 p.m., as the Public Meeting on the Plan Concept. The meeting will be held at the First Presbyterian Church at 2619 Broadway. Save the date, and please tell others. In the meantime, please take the time to read the Draft Plan Concept and come to the December meeting with your perspective! Or, send them your feedback in writing.